Thursday, December 03, 2009

Military suicides

Mr. President, given what I've witnessed and personally experienced, I think that beyond the immediate issue of my firing and my patient's care, it's vital that these flaws be named and examined. Please know I am not a publicity seeker, I'm not pitching a product, I'm not trying to rise in rank, power or compensation. I'm not even trying to restore my employment in government service. I have no agenda but to speak my truth on these matters and to confront these issues so as to ensure that these men and women receive the best of mental health treatment services that they're truly entitled to.

That's Dahr Jamail on KPFA's Flashpoints yesterday, reading from an e-mail a Camp Lejeune doctor sent to President Barack Obama back in September outlining the problems and stresses at *bases like* Fort Hood. Dahr stated he asked the doctor if he received any reply and the answer was no. Dahr has an earlier article at US Socialist Worker on military suicides in which he notes, "According to official military statistics, Fort Hood already suffers the highest number of suicides among Army installations since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. While [Chuck] Luther [of Soldier's Advocacy Group of Disposable Warriors] believes the number is far higher, Army officials at Fort Hood admit to at least 10 suicides on the base from January to July of this year, and at least 75 'confirmed' suicides since 2003." On the topic of military suicides, the New York Times this morning publishes their hypocritical editorial entitled "Neglected Warriors" which notes:

Here is a horrifying fact about the human cost of the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: The suicide rate among active duty soldiers has doubled since 2001. Officials talk of a near epidemic as they warn that the pace of suicides among soldiers and Marines is likely to top last year's tally of 182 active duty members.
The numbers are even worse when suicides of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are included. There's an average of 53 suicides a year among patients at veterans’ hospitals, plus an unknown number among the three out of four who never use veterans' services.

The hypocritical editorial ends calling for "greater candor" but this is from the paper that did not front page November US military deaths in Iraq, did not do an article on them. Why? Because the overwhelming theme of November deaths was 'under investigation.' Not meaning that they were suicides but that they could be. And somehow those deaths mattered less to the New York Times. If the editorial board truly felt "far greater candor" on this issue was needed, they could demonstrate that within the news pages of their own paper.

Again, not every under investigation will be a suicide. Some which are clearly not suicides, however, have been labeled as such by the military. We'll note this from yesterday's snapshot:

In the US, Colleen Murphy searches for answers to her daughter's death. Staff Sgt Amy Tirador was serving in Iraq when she was killed at the start of last month, shot in the back of her head. Russell Goldman (ABC News) reports Murphy has many questions including, "How could this have happened on a secure American base? I don't know why they can't rule some things out. This can't be a suicide. But there are so many probabilities and prospects and guessing games. They've given me no hints, and I can't stop thinking about all the different scenarios. Am I aggravated? Absolutely. Thursday will be a month. I want the truth. I will be patient and I will wait. But I want the truth."

Lavena Johnson was murdered in Iraq. It was not a suicide and the military's suicide 'finding' does not hold up. That finding should have resulted in Congressional hearings. Just as Lavena Johnson was not a suicide it is not likely Amy Tirador would commit suicide by shooting herself in the back of the head.

Sunday the US military announced: "BASRA -- A Multi-National Division -- South Soldier died Nov. 29 of non-combat related injuries. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." Yesterday the Defense Dept issued a release noting, "Pfc. Derrick D. Gwaltney, 21, of Cape Coral, Fla., died Nov. 29 south of Basra, Iraq, of injuries sustained from a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 377th Field Artillery Regiment, 17th Fires Brigade, Fort Lewis, Wash. The circumstances surrounding the incident are under investigation." Brian Liberatore (The News-Press) quotes his sister Latisha Gwaltney stating, "He loved life. He tried his hardest to make his life the best he could. He worked so hard. [. . .] I believe he was one of the greatest people on this earth." Cape Coral Daily Breeze adds:

According to unit records, he enlisted July 22, 2008, in Tampa and reported to Fort Jackson, S.C., for basic training. On Oct. 6, 2008, he reported to Fort Lee, Virgina, for Advanced Individual Training in Military Occupational Specialty 92G: Food Service Specialist.
Gwaltney reported to Fort Lewis on Jan. 3 and was assigned to the 17th Fires Brigade. The brigade deployed to Iraq in July. This was his first deployment.
Gwaltney's civilian and military education includes a General Equivalency Diploma in 2001 and the 92G: Food Service Specialist Qualification Course in 2009.
His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.

Meanwhile Jeanie Powell (WAFF) reports on yesterday's send off ceremony for the 441st Explosive Ordnance Battalion in Huntsville which Patricia C. McCarter (Huntsville Times) reports it the Alabama "State Guard unit['s] . . . 3rd time to Iraq." Dustin Chase (ABC Action News) reports on the send-off ceremony for Florida's National Guardr:

"He is my baby. He is going into harms way," said [Diana] Manguel.
Before the ceremony [Chief Foreign Officer Parker] Priest asked his mom to hold it together. She promised she would, during the ceremony.
"When I walk out of here, I will be really crying," said Manguel.

Cali Bagby (KVAL -- link has text, numerous photos and video option)reports from Iraq on the Alpha Battery, 2nd Battalion of the 218th, Field Artillery of the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team who are for Oregon and a number are following the Rose Bowl which sees Oregon State's Beavers match up against Oregon's Ducks. Capt Eric Brenner tells her, "If the Ducks win, I have to dress up in Duck gear and cheer for the Ducks at their Bowl game. And vice versa if the Beavers win."

Yesterday the US Justice Dept issued the following news release:

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Army Officer, Wife and Relatives Sentenced in Bribery and Money Laundering Scheme Related to DOD Contracts in Support of Iraq War

WASHINGTON – A former U.S. Army contracting officer, his wife, his sister and his niece were sentenced today for their participation in a bribery and money laundering scheme related to bribes paid for contracts awarded in support of the Iraq war, announced Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division Lanny A. Breuer and Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division Christine A. Varney. All four defendants were sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division by Judge Royal Furgeson.

The individuals were sentenced as follows:

* John L. Cockerham, 43, a major in the U.S. Army, was sentenced to 210 months in prison. He also was ordered to serve three years of supervised release following the prison term and to pay $9.6 million in restitution.
* Melissa Cockerham, 43, Cockerham’s wife, was sentenced to 41 months in prison. She also was ordered to serve three years of supervised release following the prison term and to pay $1.4 million in restitution.
* Carolyn Blake, 46, John Cockerham’s sister, was sentenced to 70 months in prison. She also was ordered to serve three years of supervised release following the prison term and to pay $3.1 million in restitution.
* Nyree Pettaway, 36, John Cockerham’s niece, was sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison. She also was ordered to serve two years of supervised release and to pay $5 million in restitution.

John Cockerham pleaded guilty in February 2008 to conspiracy, bribery and money laundering for his participation in a complex bribery scheme while working as an Army contracting officer in Kuwait in 2004 and 2005. Cockerham was responsible for awarding contracts for services to be delivered to troops in Iraq, including bottled water. Cockerham admitted that in return for awarding contracts, he received more than $9 million in bribe proceeds. Once Cockerham agreed to take money in exchange for awarding contracts, he directed the contractors to pay his wife and sister, among others, in order to conceal the receipt of bribe payments.

Melissa Cockerham pleaded guilty in February 2008 to money laundering for accepting $1.4 million on John Cockerham’s behalf, and admitted that she stored the money in safe deposit boxes at banks in Kuwait and Dubai. Carolyn Blake pleaded guilty in March 2009 to money laundering for accepting more than $3 million on John Cockerham’s behalf, and admitted that she stored the money in safe deposit boxes at banks in Kuwait. Blake also admitted that she intended to keep 10 percent of the money that she collected. Both Melissa Cockerham and Carolyn Blake also admitted that they obstructed justice by impeding and obstructing the investigation.

Nyree Pettaway pleaded guilty in July 2009 to conspiring with John Cockerham, Carolyn Blake and others, to obstruct the investigation of money laundering related to Cockerham’s receipt of bribes. Pettaway admitted that Cockerham solicited her help in creating cover stories for the millions of dollars he received and in returning $3 million in cash to co-conspirators

for safekeeping. Pettaway also admitted that she traveled to Kuwait in January 2007, received the cash from Blake, and gave it to others to hold for Cockerham. To date, the United States has recovered more than $3 million in bribe proceeds.

"John Cockerham and his family members went to great lengths to receive, hide and move millions of dollars in illegal bribes during the course of their corrupt scheme. Now, after three years of dedicated investigation and prosecution, they have been held accountable," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer. "We must ensure that service members receive crucial supplies, free of the taint of corruption, as they carry out their missions. Rest assured that the Department will prosecute those individuals who choose to manipulate U.S. Armed Forces supply contracts for personal gain."

"It is very rewarding to see these people sentenced after such a complex and exhausting investigation by our special agents and our law enforcement partners," said Brigadier General Rodney Johnson, the commander of U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID). "Cockerham and his co-conspirators broke the sacred trust and confidence we, the U.S. Army, place in our officers. What gives me comfort in these types of investigations is the knowledge that there are literally tens of thousands of U.S. military officers serving our country with distinction and honor and doing the right thing every single day. Cockerham is an exception and for that he will be held accountable."

"This continuing investigation shows that the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, its law enforcement partners and prosecutors will not stand idly by while the contracting process is circumvented by those trying to make an easy dollar," said Sharon Woods, Director, Defense Criminal Investigative Service. "As a team, we will continue to methodically investigate these allegations, work to insure confidence in the system, and protect the war fighter."

"Public corruption is always unacceptable but especially so when members of the Armed Forces are involved," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR). "The vast majority of public officials and military personnel are honest and committed to serving the public interest. For more than three years, SIGIR and our law enforcement partners investigated this complex crime, proving that our commitment to identify, pursue and prosecute such criminals remains unwavering."

These cases are being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Richard B. Evans of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, as well as former Public Integrity Section Trial Attorney Ann C. Brickley, and Trial Attorneys Mark W. Pletcher and Emily W. Allen of the Antitrust Division’s National Criminal Enforcement Section. Assistance was also provided by the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs. The cases are being investigated by the Army CID, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, FBI, Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation and SIGIR.

The National Procurement Fraud Task Force, created in October 2006 by the Department of Justice, was designed to promote the early detection, identification, prevention and prosecution of procurement fraud associated with the increase in government contracting activity for national security and other government programs.

And this is a press release sent to the public account on a National Geographic special set to air December 13th (9:00 pm EST) entitled Inside the Iraq War:

Soldiers' Battlefield Footage, Photographs and Testimonies Reveal Complex Portrait of Controversial War
Inside the Iraq War Premieres Sunday, December 13, 2009, at 9 PM ET/PT
(WASHINGTON, D.C. -- NOVEMBER 30, 2009) A controversial war that has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of civilians. A war with countless stories of bravery, triumph, sacrifice and tragedy. Even as six years of news coverage and policy debate have framed our understanding of the war in Iraq, what have our service members really experienced? And what can their up-close insight teach us about this war?
Transporting viewers to war-torn Iraq, National Geographic Channel (NGC) provides an unflinching, personal and in-depth look at the last six years in Inside the Iraq War, premiering Sunday, December 13, at 9 p.m. ET/PT. From the producers of Inside 9/11, Inside the Iraq War opens a window into the first-person experiences of the men and women who live this war on a daily basis the dangerous missions, the interrogations, the life-or-death situations and the ongoing battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. The film avoids the policy debate that raged in the United States and around the world and opens a window into the soldier's battlefield perspective through a complex tapestry of video shot by the troops themselves, news footage from embedded journalists, rare photos and compelling personal accounts from those on the front lines.
Inside the Iraq War puts a human face on the soldiers caught in the maelstrom of insurgent violence, sectarian strife and ferocious urban combat. It chronicles the war in detail, from the fall of Baghdad to the struggle for Fallujah, the uprisings in Basra and Sadr City, the capture of Saddam Hussein and the Anbar Offensive up until the first wave of the recent surge. The program provides a close-up view of 21st century warfare through first-person accounts, with personal stories that shed light on the larger story of the conduct of the war, its triumphs and tragedies.
Watch the dramatic chapters from the very earliest days of the war, such as Stealth Fighter pilot Major Mark Hoehn's top-secret mission over Baghdad to target Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with satellite-guided bunker-busting bombs. And relive the experiences of 30-year-old Chief Warrant Officer David Williams, whose Apache attack helicopter was shot down during the first weeks of the war. Williams and his gunner were taken prisoner, tortured, interrogated and paraded before cameras on Arabic TV network Al-Jazeera. Inside the Iraq War incorporates actual footage of Williams' interrogation, as well as the emotional day he was rescued.
Among the first Americans into the Iraqi capital, Marine Tank Gunnery Sergeant Nick Popaditch and his tank unit find themselves circling an iconic statue of Saddam Hussein as a crowd gathers. The statue is pulled down and moments later, someone snaps a front-page photo of Popaditch joining in the celebration, cigar in hand. Popaditch describes that historic moment and the contrast a year later when his tank command came under fire during the first battle of Fallujah, blinding him in one eye. "A rocket hit me right in the helmet. Blew my helmet apart, blew [...] one eye out of my head and knock[ed] my other eye down in my sinus cavity, so for me, what I saw was real bright flash of light, like a super-intense camera flash and then nothing, just darkness and I could hear this, like, humming in my ears, like if you took a radio and put it on the static and then cranked the volume [...] I couldn't hear anything."
You'll hear from Special Operations Interrogator Eric Maddox, who coerced a man from Hussein's inner circle to reveal the dictator's hiding spot. The unit immediately flies the informant to the location and spends hours searching every inch of it. Then, without saying a word, the informant kicks at a rope coming out of the ground. Soldiers pull on the rope and discover the hidden hole containing Saddam Hussein. Watch as soldiers pull the disheveled dictator from the hole, and hear what it was like to be there as the hunt for the despised dictator came to a fruitful conclusion.
The same day Saddam is captured, a car bomb in Khalidiyah destroys an Iraqi police station, killing 26 policemen and two little girls. Rumors spread that the explosion was caused by an errant U.S. missile as a campaign of misinformation takes hold. Lieutenant Colonel Garry Bishop describes how his work rebuilding basic services in Iraq was complicated by lies: “It was almost as if we were combating rumors as much as we were combating enemy combatants.” Find out how soldiers like Bishop developed strategies for winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.
President Bush's orders to send 20,000 troops to Iraq in January 2007 gave U.S. forces the strength they needed to sustain and build on gains, helping to stabilize the situation. But with more than 100,000 troops continuing to fight in Iraq, and thousands more set to redeploy soon, Inside the Iraq War provides timely insight into the emotional and psychological toll on soldiers, the violence they have experienced and the ethical dilemmas posed by the war.
Inside the Iraq War is produced by Towers Productions, Inc., for National Geographic Channel (NGC). For Towers Productions, producer/writer is Ellen Hardner, supervising producer/writer is Charles Fitzgerald, editor is Karla Svatos and executive producer is Jonathan Towers. For NGC, executive producer is Michael Welsh, senior vice president of production is Michael Cascio and executive in charge of production is Steve Burns.
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